Warren, Z-B soccer teams accomplish important goal
By Bryan Bonato For Sun-Times Media September 15, 2013 4:30PM
Players from both teams and members of the Ahonen family are on the field together for the national anthem. | SUBMITTED PHOTO
SOCCER FOR SCLERODERMA
Scleroderma is a complex autoimmune disease that can affect the skin and internal organs, causing tissue to harden and inhibiting proper function. No one treatment has been proven to reliably halt or reverse the effects, and patients with affected organs may require transplants.
Steve Ahonen, the father of Warren High soccer coach Jason Ahonen, received a double lung transplant in the summer of 2012. He followed the Blue Devils’ magical state championship season via video over the internet while he recovered last fall, and was more than well enough to attend Tuesday’s game.
Proceeds from admission, a 50/50 raffle, and a “goal bucket” passed around after each of Warren’s three goals is heading to the Scleroderma Foundation. Estimated attendance for the evening was 350.
Warren 3, Zion-Benton 0 — Goals by Mikey Pliskat (15th minute), Mikey Cain (42nd) and Jack McKearnan (58th). Zion was dangerous to start the game, and for a stretch following Warren’s first goal, but ultimately the Blue Devils outshot the Zee-Bees 12-1. Junior keeper R.J. Hill earned his fourth shutout of the season in the victory.
Updated: September 16, 2013 4:48AM
In this corner of the state, Warren and Zion-Benton are thought of as neighborhood rivals in high school sports.
But last week, the soccer programs at the two schools and members of the community teamed up for a very special fundraising evening that will be remembered by players, coaches and fans from both sides for a long time.
The event was the second annual game to support the Scleroderma Foundation, a contest held because the father of Warren coach Jason Ahonen has been affected by the disease.
Scleroderma is a disease that can affect the skin and internal organs, causing tissue to harden and inhibiting proper function. No one treatment has been proven to reliably halt or reverse the effects, and patients with affected organs may require transplants.
Which is where Steven Ahonen comes in. A longtime area resident with ties to both Warren and Zion-Benton, he received a double lung transplant in the summer of 2012, and the inaugural fundraising game for the Foundation was held between these two schools last fall.
Steve followed the Blue Devils’ magical state championship season via video over the internet while he recovered last fall, and was more than well enough to attend Tuesday’s game, which Warren won 3-0.
“I’m fantastic. I’m very grateful,” Steve said. “Last year, I watched the game (between Warren and Zion-Benton) via Skype, that my daughter-in-law Cyranda, Jason’s wife, provided. It was great to see it, but to be here is unbelievable.”
Jason was pretty much overwhelmed to have his entire family on the pitch for the evening and was beyond grateful for the big turnout.
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re very fortunate here to be where we are. I think this event helps bring awareness to, and appreciation for, the things we have in life,” Jason said. “Seeing what my dad went through the last 10 years with his disease, and seeing him here now, I’m just amazed at how something like donating one’s organs can have such a positive impact on so many lives.
“If we can raise awareness about the need for organ donations, and raise money for research and support for scleroderma patients, I think that’s great. Especially when it’s something that has impacted my family, and the family of one of my players, it’s great to be able to help. It’s absolutely a win-win.
“It’s nice for the boys to finally meet my dad and be able to put a face to the name and the reason we do this.”
The player the coach was referring to was Lucas Geib, a sophomore whose aunt suffers from scleroderma. He did not score on Tuesday, but he was part of an offensive attack that generated 12 shots on net.
“I think it’s great that we were able to use soccer to help raise money for this foundation,” he said.
Also thrilled to participate was Zion-Benton coach Cliff Pontillo.
“I’ve known the Ahonen family for over 15 years. I coached Aaron and Eric (Jason’s younger brothers) at Zion-Benton, and Jason started off coaching for me. The relationship I have with the Ahonen family transcends whatever happens on the soccer field,” Pontillo said.
And Zion really was a perfect partner for the event.
“I have so many ties with both schools,” said Steve Ahonen. “My connection with Zion-Benton goes back to my father-in-law Bob Becker, who was a teacher at Zion-Benton for many years. My wife graduated from Zion-Benton, and all three of my boys graduated from and played varsity soccer for Zion-Benton.
“I go back with Cliff all the way to the kids playing AYSO soccer when they were young. And of course, here at Warren, Jason is coaching the team that won state in 2012, and my son Aaron is coaching the freshman.
“I couldn’t imagine a better matchup for a game to raise awareness and money for scleroderma.”
“To get the community out here to raise money and promote the need for (organ) donations, the boys do me proud. I think it helps tremendously. Scleroderma is still a relatively unknown disease, and I don’t think people realize that there are people out there in need, and how much of a difference they can make by donating.”